To charge or not to charge? It's up to you...
LOCAL councillors are seeking to reassure the public over the contentious issue of introducing parking charges at Wick's riverside site – an area which was recently revealed to be Common Good land left to benefit local people.
With the slogan of "It’s up to you" the four Highland councillors representing Wick and East Caithness spoke ahead of a series of public and private consultations and sought to placate any fears over the matter.
In a joint statement, the councillors said they are keen to "reassure the public that the process will be fair and open, and that decisions will be made at a local level following close examination of the consultation responses".
The consultation includes proposals for all car parks across Wick and the east side of the county that have more than 15 bays.
The list includes:
- Auckengill – Harbour broch car park
- Duncansby – Duncansby Head car park
- Wick – Noss Head car park
- Wick – Reiss beach car park
- Wick – Camps car park
- Wick – Riverside car park
- Wick – Kirk Lane car park
- Wick – Mart car park
- Wick – St Fergus Court car park
Under Highland Council policy, local members cannot rule any car parks completely free of charge ahead of the public consultation – all car parks will therefore go forward with a proposal for "charging of some description".
However, the ward three councillors claim to have "shaped the proposals" to include free short-stay parking on most sites and at least one hour free at every site. They have also considered whether there should be seasonal variations.
Once the consultation is complete, the four local councillors will decide whether charging should be implemented after a meeting of the Caithness area committee.
Councillor Raymond Bremner said: “Highland Council has had this consultation in its sights for over two years.
"It is completely unrelated to any projects that local councillors have been working on in respect of regenerating our town – including the redesign of the riverside car park area.
"We are aware of a similar project [at John O'Groats] taking in a lot of money and if the local folk want to replicate that elsewhere then the consultation will provide them with that opportunity."
If parking charges are implemented at the proposed sites, costs to local residents can be mitigated by the council offering permits.
Residents’ permits – for designated residents’ parking only – cost £40 per year, a Highland Season Pass – for parking anywhere in Highland – is £20 per month and a Local Season Pass is £10 per month, equating to around 32p per day.
The council does not allow the issuing of free passes.
The local councillors say there will be "no financial penalties" if they decide to opt out of all parking charges.
If charging is introduced, it will help fund repairs to the surface and any signs needed. Half of the income generated would go to the local roads budget as well.
Looking ahead to the consultations and meetings that will take place over the next two months, Councillor Nicola Sinclair said: "This will no doubt be a controversial discussion but it’s one we have to have.
"I have always maintained that I have an open mind regarding parking charges. Done correctly, they could bring much-needed revenue back into the town for road repairs, and for general maintenance via the new Common Good fund being established.
"I also think the local permit is very good value at 32p per day. On the other hand, we need to protect our fragile tourist industry, ensure locals can still enjoy walks and attractions, and support our town centre and the people who work and visit there.
"This might mean that the best option would be no charging, anywhere, ever.
"I am quite prepared to make that decision if I feel it’s in the best interest of the community, but it would be arrogant to prejudge public opinion and I will wait to see what people have to say."
The councillors say they will publicise details on the forthcoming consultation as widely as they can.